Chatbots are popping up everywhere lately.

You have most likely seen them on Facebook Messenger, maybe even Skype or Kik.

Now, the big brands are starting to leverage chatbots to promote their products. For example, McDonald’s has been using a Kik chatbot to interact with its fans. You can ask the McDonald’s chatbot about the latest promotion in your area, prices of the items on their menus, and much more.

A conversation between customers and businesses, regardless of chatbots, is becoming more common. According to a recent survey carried out by Facebook IQ, 63 percent of consumers are using messaging apps (in this case, Facebook Messenger) to contact companies, find information, and buy products.

When consumers meet messaging automation

On one hand, we have consumers who are increasingly willing to connect with brands through mobile messaging apps. According to the Facebook survey, 67 percent expect to message businesses more frequently over the next two years.

On the other hand, we have the big brands starting to roll out chatbots to help them deal with the influx of customers reaching out. Currently, Facebook Messenger has over 11,000 chatbots for you to try — and the number keeps growing.

There is a clear path ahead. The willingness of consumers to reach out to brands, combined with the automation made possible by well-programmed chatbots, may revolutionize marketing. However, what about smaller, more local businesses? What will happen to those who simply don’t have the resources McDonald’s has?

Making chatbots affordable

Building a chatbot is already starting to become more affordable. The fact is, most brands (especially local businesses) can’t afford a bespoke bot.

This is why some developers have created very basic chatbots on which their customers can add layers relevant to their business. The core functionality is supplied — all a business has to do is adapt a certain amount of functions to suit what they want their bot to achieve.

We can expect this behavior to democratize the chatbot industry.

If you think back to the 1990s, building a proper functioning website from scratch used to be extremely expensive. Slowly, over time, websites have become more affordable. Now a small WordPress website can be built mostly for free.

The same trend is currently happening with chatbots. That is how local businesses will, eventually, be able to afford and set up their chatbots at a very respectable price.

How local businesses can profit from chatbots

Being able to afford a chatbot is great, but how exactly are local small businesses meant to use them?

First, we have to go back to the statistic from the survey and reiterate the insight. People — meaning your customers — want to talk to you through messaging applications. Also, over 54 percent of the people surveyed in a mobile messaging report said they would rather contact a business via a messaging app than email. Your customers could not be clearer; they are waiting to talk to you.

Here are two examples of how to make a bot profitable:

Direct the consumer accurately. 35 percent of consumers ask businesses questions related to a product or a service via a messaging application. As a local business, your chatbot could be set to answer basic customer queries about your product, such as available stock, or about your service, such as open hours. The role of your chatbot is to be there for your customers 24/7. It is taking away the strain of needing staff available (answering emails, the phone, or mobile messages, etc.) around the clock.

Assist the conversion. 34 percent of consumers make or confirm an appointment, or purchase or place an order, via a messaging application. This is the clearest and most advantageous scenario for employing a chatbot for a local business. Your chatbot could offer a selection of different products and guide the consumer to select one, pick a size and a color, and place the order — all through the messaging platform.

What’s next for chatbots?

A.I. and chatbot integration is just starting. Currently, businesses can build bots that carry out simple tasks, answer simple questions, and help with the steps laid out above. At the moment, however, chatbots are limited to one single messaging application. A chatbot for Facebook Messenger will be limited to Facebook Messenger. You would need to create a new chatbot for each mobile messaging application, should you want to be present on multiple channels.

The future of chatbots probably lies in ubiquity across platforms. Creating a way for businesses to leverage the power of chatbots across multiple messaging platforms at once, without having to integrate each one separately, is the next crucial step the industry needs to take.